Jessica Smith and her family had high hopes when they moved to Middleton in June. And they still do.

The family entered into a rent-to-own agreement on their house. Due to some unanticipated issues, however, they soon found themselves struggling and turned to the Community Action Partnership of Strafford County for help.

“Actually, my older daughter reached out to them and they contacted us,” Smith said. “I am grateful and humbled by what they did for us. We were fighting to keep the house and for the first time, I worried about money to make Christmas happen.”

Smith said she and her fiancé, Scott Parquette, both work six days a week. Living with them are their children Adrianna, 12, D.J., 8 and Jared, 6. She said they never thought they would need help.

“Our furnace went, and we had to bring in a small propane heater to keep warm,” Smith said. “Working as hard as we do, it was hard to accept that we needed help. But my kids had Christmas this year, and I just cried with gratitude.”

Smith shared her family’s story as part of Seacoast Media Group’s annual Gift of Warmth campaign.

Through the Gift of Warmth, Seacoast Media Group works with Rockingham Community Action and the Community Action Partnership of Strafford County, which both identify families in need in the region. Money raised through the annual campaign helps meet needs over and above the agencies’ annual budgets, helping families who may fall just beyond the criteria for assistance through the CAP regular programs but are still in need of help.

The Gift of Warmth solicits donations from residents of the Greater Seacoast to help area residents who do not meet financial guidelines of other fuel assistance programs that may not take into account factors such as illnesses, recent job losses, a broken furnace or heating sources such as kerosene or wood. Others may be slightly outside strict income limits of federal fuel assistance programs or receive a small amount of government assistance but not enough to get them through the winter.

Smith and Parquette’s furnace was repaired by the family, and then Strafford CAP filled the tank. Smith said they are on the list for help with electricity and she will be thrilled with any help she does get. Also, the family will be revisited in 2019 to see if the weatherization program can help tighten up the house and make it more efficient.

As the weather turns cold like this weekend it brings to attention the benefit of weatherization efforts. According to NewEnglandOil.com, the cost of oil in eastern New Hampshire this week was between $2.60 and $2.75 a gallon, which would equal $715 to fill a 275-gallon tank at $2.60. In Maine this week, the average per gallon cost of oil was $2.86, while the cost of propane was $2.87 per gallon.

“I went to them and they were wonderful,” Smith said. “In addition to the fuel help I needed, the people there are looking to see if there are other resources we might be eligible for. I know the house is not air-tight and we are planning to make the changes we can. Of course, all that costs money.”

If there are people out there who need help, Smith said go and ask.

“I battled with it,” Smith said. “I don’t know if it’s a pride thing, but I never felt like we should need help. When you go to the CAP people, they make you feel welcome. They want to help and that made me feel so humble. I love what they did for us and anyone who in trouble should definitely reach out. It’s OK to need help.”

How to help

Tax-deductible donations to Gift of Warmth can be made by sending a check for any amount to Seacoast Media Group c/o Gift of Warmth, 111 New Hampshire Ave., Portsmouth, NH 03801. Include which organization the donation is intended for: Rockingham Community Action or Community Action Partnership of Strafford County.

If you need help

To apply for fuel assistance, call RCA at 431-2911. People experiencing any significant hardship or financial crisis can also call and they will be referred to the appropriate person. The main office is at 4 Cutts St. in Portsmouth. For more information, visit www.snhs.org. Appointments required. Call RCA’s Portsmouth office at (603) 436-3896.

For CAP of Strafford County, call 435-2500 or visit www.straffordcap.org. The Dover office is at 577 Central Avenue, Suite 10; the Farmington office is at 527 Main St.; and the Rochester office is at 10 Cold Spring.